Media release

UN Human Rights Council Members Urge Australia to Adopt Stronger Climate Measures Now to Protect Human Rights

January 20, 2021

All eyes were on Australia as the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group met in Geneva to examine the country’s human rights record.

More than 120 countries made recommendations to Australia to strengthen its protection of human rights. A number of these countries recommended that Australia immediately strengthen its action on climate change, demonstrating concern that Australia’s inadequate climate action is contributing to harms to fundamental human rights such as the rights to life and health.

During the UPR, representatives of the Australian government told the U.N. Human Rights Council that Australia is resolutely committed to taking climate action in line with the Paris Agreement. The Environmental Defenders Office, Environmental Justice Australia, and Earthjustice now urge Australia to turn its words into actions by heeding the recommendations of the UPR to avert human rights violations caused by the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is already harming human rights in Australia, including the rights to life, health, food, water, housing, and culture. Australia is failing to satisfy its international obligations to prevent these human rights violations. Today’s recommendations confirm that Australia must ambitiously reduce emissions by phasing out the use and export of fossil fuels, as well as other activities that emit dangerous greenhouse gases,” said Fleur Ramsay, Special Counsel, International Program of the EDO.

“Australia is among the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquefied natural gas and plans to continue expanding these exports. Australia’s fossil fuels will contribute emissions around the world for decades to come, contrary to clear evidence that most fossil fuels must now remain unburned to avert the most serious consequences of climate change to humans and the planet,” said Ariane Wilkinson, Senior Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia.

“Today’s recommendations reflect the ever-increasing international pressure on Australia to take strong climate action now, especially with the election of the U.S. President Joe Biden who has committed to put climate change at the center of his platform and recommit to the Paris Agreement. On his first day in office, the Biden administration committed to rescinding the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and reviewing a slew of actions taken by the Trump administration that harmed public health and the environment such as weakening of oil and gas emissions standards. If Australia fails to act on climate, it will not only lag behind other nations as they embrace renewable energy opportunities, but also miss a crucial opportunity to transform its economy through a green recovery from COVID-19,” said Noni Austin, Staff Attorney in the International program at Earthjustice. 


As part of Australia’s UPR, France, Fiji, Vanuatu, Haiti, and Uruguay called on Australia to swiftly develop and implement strong and tangible measures to fight climate change now and into the future. Haiti specifically noted Australia’s potential to produce and export renewable energy. Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands recommended that Australia phase out the use of fossil fuels, and the Marshall Islands and Switzerland called on Australia to conform its actions with the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C, with Switzerland emphasizing the importance of adopting a human rights-based approach to combating climate change. Uruguay similarly recommended that Australia take action to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the human rights of its most vulnerable people, whilst Cuba and Fiji urged Australia to ensure the full participation of vulnerable groups including Indigenous peoples in decision-making on climate policies that affect them.

During the UPR, representatives of the Australian government told the U.N. Human Rights Council that Australia approaches its international obligations with great seriousness and is resolutely committed to taking climate action in line with the Paris Agreement, including by reaching net zero as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Australia’s climate inaction fails to reflect this: last year, during preparations for Australia’s UPR, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), and Earthjustice highlighted how Australia’s actions are inconsistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement and are fueling the release of greenhouse gases which drive climate change and contribute to threats to human rights.

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